Gulf Shores closed to swimming for more than 50 days


In 2009, the beaches ranked among the top 200 in the U.S. for water quality, reported the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Now, in the 14 weeks since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the beaches at Gulf Shores have been closed to swimming in excess of 50 days.

“Gulf Shores really puts the situation in stark relief. Here’s a popular, well-monitored beach closed to swimming more than 53 days during its peak season,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney with the council, a Washington, D.C.-based public-interest group.

He said that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach had done the responsible thing by putting up the double-red flags to ensure “the safety of their visitors.”

Steve Garman, Gulf Shores city administrator, said that the city’s policy from the beginning has been “safety first,” even at the risk of losing tourists.

“On the one hand, we’ve yet to find any reliable source that tells us there’s a contamination problem in the water,” Garman said. “However, as long as there’s any indication there’s oil in the water we’re going to do all we can to protect people from being exposed to it.”

He said that officials of the two cities discussed taking down the double-red flags at some point in the coming weeks, but made no decision.

Since the spill began, the 253 beaches monitored for bacteria in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and western Florida have been closed 1,755 days, according to Natural Resources Defense Council’s 20th annual “Testing the Waters” report.

Gulf Coast beaches have been closed or slapped with health warnings nearly 10 times more often this year than last because of the BP oil disaster, the report said.

“Tourists are being driven away by the specter of oil ‘mousse,’ tarballs, tar mats and even liquid oil on the sand and in the water. Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of accurate and comprehensive information about which beaches have been affected by the oil spill,” according to the report.

As part of this year’s “Testing the Waters” effort, the council tracked spill-related beach closures, advisories and notices. Up-to-date information is available online at

Among report findings, as of Tuesday:

* Six of the 25 monitored beach segments in Alabama had been under advisory due to oil; there had 307 days of advisories altogether, compared to none at this time last year.

* Sixteen of 20 monitored beach segments in Mississippi had been under advisory for oil, with 430 days of advisories compared to 57 at this time last year.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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